Ambassador Richard Holbrooke Surveys U.N. Peacekeeping

from US Information Agency
Published on 12 May 2000
"Peacekeepers cannot succeed when there is no peace to keep," the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, warned May 11, while adding that "Sierra Leone, like Bosnia before it, is an example of what happens when the parties to a peace settlement violate that settlement, wreaking havoc on everyone - peacekeepers and civilians alike."
What happened in Sierra Leone last week -- with at least four peacekeepers killed and hundreds missing and taken hostage by rebel groups -- Holbrooke said, must remind everyone of where "we were exactly five years ago this week when General Mladic and Radovan Karadzic took 500 peacekeepers in Bosnia and chained them to telephone poles and trees and brought the U.N. peacekeeping efforts to their low point.

"That crisis, followed by the catastrophe in Srebrenica and Zepa, when the U.N. stood aside and allowed atrocities to take place - plus the immediately preceding crisis in Rwanda and Somalia," he said, "almost took the U.N. in its peacekeeping responsibilities down for the count."

Holbrooke made his remarks May 11 before the Quandt Foundation in Munich, Germany, after leading a grueling eight-day U.N. Security Council Mission to Africa. The group visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.

The mission's objective was to assess the prospects for deploying U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo, he said. But that intention soon became "framed by two other crises - Sierra Leone and the Horn of Africa." Regarding Sierra Leone, Holbrooke said the "world has a choice. It can try to put the Lome Peace Agreement back together again and beef up the U.N. peacekeepers. Or, it can choose a regional force, which would have a different mandate than the U.N. peacekeepers.

"This decision," he said, "is of critical importance and it is under the most intense review at the highest levels of the major capitals in Europe, in Africa and in Washington. I cannot tonight tell you which course will be followed."

The stakes are "very high" in Sierra Leone, he stressed. "How the U.N. and the world community respond to the situation that threatens to spiral out of control will have huge ramifications for peacekeeping throughout the world and whether the world looks to the U.N. at all to do peacekeeping."

He also made plain that the situation in Sierra Leone, "appalling though it is, cannot be viewed as a metaphor for all of Africa, nor can the Congo, nor can Ethiopia/Eritrea. Despite these appalling and legitimately well-publicized disasters in Africa, there are plenty of success stories."

Following is a U.S. embassy transcript of Holbrooke's remarks:

(begin transcript)

Thank you, Horst, my friend, for that kind introduction. I am so pleased to be back in Munich, a city that holds so many warm memories for me.

The Quandt Foundation, of course, has been a vital part of the German-American relationship and, as Ambassador to Germany, it was one of my highest priorities to foster a new post-Cold War tradition of relations that were not dependent on the strategic ties of the Cold War. That is what the Quandt Foundation has been doing; that is what the American Academy in Berlin has done; that is what the America House in its new incarnation as the Bavarian-American Center has done; that's what great transatlantic businessmen like Heinrich von Pierer and his colleagues at Daimler-Chrysler, at Allianz, and at other great institutions like BMW have done.

Fifty years ago, of course, the Berlin Airlift served as the Cold War's enduring symbol of the United States' relationship with Germany. In addition to remembering forever the Berlin Airlift, we must build new bridges, not just the Berlin Luftbruecke, but new bridges.

I want to talk tonight about one of the new issues that will bind our countries together - which is our mutual interest in peacekeeping - not just United Nations peacekeeping but peacekeeping efforts all over the world. It was, of course, enormously symbolic that, for the first time since 1945, a peacekeeping mission was entrusted to a German general in Kosovo until a few weeks ago. I knew General Reinhardt. I greatly admired him. He did a superb job of leading the NATO - KFOR forces. I don't think many of the Germans that I see in this room, my friends here, would have predicted when I was Ambassador here in 1993-94, that within a few years, a German general would be commanding American, British, French, Italian, and even Russian troops in Kosovo in pursuit of peace. But that is what is happening. Our interests run far beyond Kosovo. Germany emerges increasingly as a major part of the international landscape.

But peacekeeping, especially UN peacekeeping, is being challenged today in a fundamental way. Events in the last week have reminded (us) of peacekeeping's fragility. While I speak primarily of the United Nations - both because I am Ambassador to the United Nations and because of the trip I have just completed - I want to stress that there are many other forms of peacekeeping: some run by the UN; some sanctioned by the UN and some outside the UN structure.

As Horst just mentioned, I have just arrived in Munich - about six hours ago, directly from Asmara, Eritrea and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia after concluding an intense, grueling eight-day, eight-nation UN Security Council Mission to Africa and, I say with great pride and humility, the first UN Security Council Mission which an American ever was asked to head. As a normal tradition, no member of the Permanent Five - the US, Russia, Great Britain, France or China - heads such a mission. For example, last month's mission to Kosovo was headed by the Ambassador from Bangladesh. We went to seven African states: Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. Our main objective on the mission originally was to assess the prospects for deploying UN peacekeepers in the Congo, but our mission was framed by two other crises - Sierra Leone and the Horn of Africa. I will talk about both in a minute and I will try to assert that what happens in this part of the world cannot be ignored by Americans or Europeans and that a little bit of effort early is a lot better than a lot of effort later.

The last three days of the mission were unexpected. In the middle of the mission, the Algiers peace talks designed to prevent what would surely be one of the most senseless wars in the world, a war between Ethiopia and Eritrea over a disputed border, a war that can and must be settled peacefully, was about to erupt again. So we were asked to divert and go to the area in an attempt not to settle the differences - because they are complicated and they require careful diplomacy and that diplomacy is underway under the leadership of the Organization of African Unity, the OAU, with special envoys from the European Union and the United States. But we went there because those talks had broken down and because, as we speak, the Ethiopians and Eritreans have both moved 250,000 men each up to the border in the desert and are preparing to resume the war. As Ambassador Jean David Levitte, the French Ambassador to the United Nations and President Chirac's former national security advisor, said to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia yesterday, "This is what Europe did to itself in the summer of 1914." These disputes can and must be resolved peacefully.

As we speak, an emergency session of the Security Council is about to begin - it will begin in two and a half or three hours. My British, French, Dutch, Namibian, Tunisian and Malian colleagues - the other nations on our delegation - plus my deputy in New York - will introduce a Security Council resolution designed to increase the pressure on Ethiopia and Eritrea (to keep) from starting this war or restarting this war. Last year, sixty thousand - seventy thousand people were killed in this war. We face a similar casualty toll within days if it is not averted. In addition, sixteen million people in Southern Ethiopia are facing a famine and most of the logistical transportation in Ethiopia is being used right now to ferry equipment, blood plasma and fuel to the front. So, in addition to the deaths from the war, an extraordinary number of other people are at risk - the UN estimates sixteen million. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of tons of food from Europe, the United States and Australia are either piling up on the docks in Djibouti or unable to come in because of the dispute.

Many of you may say that it is terrible but there is nothing we can do about it or we shouldn't bother to try to do something about it. But, I can tell you that on every level - politically, humanitarian, strategic, financial, moral - we can't turn away. If you are thinking about the financial aspect of it, let me assure you that the cost of dealing with the consequences of a war are much greater than the cost of trying to prevent it: the food; the refugee relief work; the reconstruction work and the threat of spread of diseases, including the most dangerous of all the diseases sweeping Africa today - HIV AIDS, are ever present and must be dealt with. It is better not to have to deal with most of those. AIDS, of course, must be dealt with. From a moral and humanitarian point of view, we can not turn away. From a political point of view, we can make a difference. That is why I am very pleased that the Security Council was asked to enter this area which, up to now, it had not been involved in.

I cannot assure you tonight that war will be avoided in the Horn. If it breaks out, it will be by far the biggest war in the world at that moment. But I can assure you that the major powers are now fully engaged to assist the OAU, for the first time, in the effort to prevent it. By the time you rise tomorrow morning, we will see the Security Council having started the discussions. We cannot pass the resolution immediately, because several countries need to consult capitals, but I hope we will pass it very quickly.

Now, you may ask what difference does a Security Council resolution make. The answer to that in this case is highly technical and goes into some very confidential negotiations and, since it is not the main purpose of the speech as we originally intended it, I will bypass the details for now. Suffice it to say, the two leaders in question - President Isaias of Eritrea and Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia, former colleagues and comrades in guerilla and liberation movements, cannot at this point agree to any single piece of paper. The Security Council, unencumbered by the need to force them to agree and empowered by the fact that it speaks with a greater moral and political legitimacy than any other body in the world, can make a difference. If the Security Council resolution is not sufficient to prevent the resumption of massive hostilities within the next few days, there is nothing we can do. Either side has the ability to start a war, a senseless war. But, at least the Security Council and the United Nations will have made an effort. Those of us who have been shuttling back and forth between Asmara and Addis Ababa over the last two and a half days believe, as do our Algerian friends, the chairman of the OAU, that this is well worth the effort.

This brings me to my main point. These problems exist - many people, journalists I talk to, members of the US Congress, members of the Bundestag and the Japanese Diet who come to visit us in New York - say, "Why bother? It's hopeless." Certainly, in the week of Sierra Leone, it looks pretty bad. What happened in Sierra Leone last week - with at least four peacekeepers killed and hundreds missing and taken hostage or perhaps worse by rebel groups - must remind us of where we were exactly five years ago this week when General Mladic and Radovan Karadzic took five hundred peacekeepers in Bosnia and chained them to telephone poles and trees and brought the UN peacekeeping efforts to their low point. That crisis, followed by the catastrophe in Srebrenica and Zepa, when the UN stood aside and allowed atrocities to take place - plus the immediately preceding crisis in Rwanda and Somalia - almost took the UN in its peacekeeping responsibilities down for the count.

Now, the UN is many things: it is UNICEF; it is UNESCO; it is the WFP; it is the food programs; it is the refugee organizations, but it was conceived in the ashes of the war that destroyed Europe primarily and centrally as a conflict prevention and conflict resolution organization. So we are dealing here with the core responsibility of the UN. The stakes are very high in Sierra Leone. How the UN and the world community respond to the situation that threatens to spiral out of control will have huge ramifications for peacekeeping throughout the world and whether the world looks to the UN at all to do peacekeeping.

In recent days, there has been extensive criticism of the UN effort in Sierra Leone in the American press and in Congress - and, I assume, here in Germany as well, although I am sorry that I have not been able to read the German papers closely in Asmara and Addis Ababa. I have no doubt that you have had the same debate that we are having in the United States. As we race to find an explanation for this volatile crisis, both policy makers and the press are asking tough questions about whether the UN was prepared for the crisis. We need to remember one simple fact: peacekeepers cannot succeed when there is no peace to keep. Sierra Leone, like Bosnia before it, is an example of what happens when the parties to a peace settlement violate that settlement, wreaking havoc on everyone - peacekeepers and civilians alike. Foday Sankoh, the monstrous rebel leader behind the past week's bloodshed, a man who, in my view, belongs in the same cage with Radovan Karadzic and Jonas Savimbi - and I regret to say none of the three is in a cage - was a signatory to the Lome Agreement. That agreement, signed over a year ago, was supposed to end the war in Sierra Leone by a compromise and a political power sharing agreement. Foday Sankoh was granted amnesty and a position within the government of Sierra Leone in exchange for the cessation of violence. Many people have criticized that agreement, but it was what the people in the area wanted. On that basis, the Security Council of the United Nations authorized UN peacekeeping forces to go to Sierra Leone to replace Nigerian forces that had been there in the previous cycle of history defending the capital of Freetown against Foday Sankoh's rebels.

This was complicated because, like Bosnia, where the UN forces, when they were replaced by NATO forces, ended up including some of the same troops. Some of the Nigerian troops simply switched uniforms from national Nigerian uniforms to UN peacekeeper uniforms. But, as the whole world now knows, Foday Sankoh violated the commitments that he had made and resumed his murderous ways. One may well ask if the Lome Agreements were a mistake given Sankoh's odious track record. The issue now before the world is even more fundamental: what should be done in Sierra Leone and what is the future of UN peacekeeping?

The world has a choice in Sierra Leone. It can try to put the Lome Agreement back together again and beef up the UN peacekeepers. Or, it can choose a regional force, which would have a different mandate than the UN peacekeepers. This decision is of critical importance and it is under the most intense review at the highest levels of the major capitals in Europe, in Africa and in Washington. I cannot tonight tell you which course will be followed. Indeed, I am not even up to date on the last few days of consultations because I have been so enmeshed in the crisis in the Horn of Africa. But I can tell you that the leaders of the Western Alliance, as well as President Obasanjo in Nigeria and other major African leaders, have been in constant touch on how to proceed. What happens in Sierra Leone will also affect the UN's approach to the Congo, which is one of the most complex negotiations and problems I've ever been involved in. But, before I talk about the Congo, I want to talk about the connection between Sierra Leone and the Congo because, as I have said repeatedly on our mission, what's happening in Sierra Leone - and indeed what may or may not happen in the Horn of Africa - will have no direct effect on the crisis in the Congo, but it will cast a shadow over UN peacekeeping efforts everywhere.

The Congo runs on its own internal engine with its own internal problems. No one in the Congo sees any connection to Sierra Leone - indeed, the issue never came up during our trip - except from journalists who legitimately said, "Is the world going to send peacekeepers to the Congo after what has happened in Sierra Leone?" I freely would observe that what is happening in Sierra Leone will cast a shadow over international decisions on peacekeeping. Having said that, I believe it is important - and the seven-nation Security Council mission will report to the Security Council tomorrow - that the decisions on the Congo should be made independent of the crisis in Sierra Leone but drawing lessons from that crisis.

Today, as I said earlier, Ethiopia/Eritrea and Sierra Leone are the two issues on the Security Council's agenda. Tomorrow, from my colleagues, absent myself as I will stay in Munich, the Security Council will hear our report on Sierra Leone. To me, that will be the underlining point: that the decisions in the Congo should not be adversely affected by what has happened in Sierra Leone - that they should be informed by it but not adversely affected. I cannot say what the final decisions will be, because that is a matter for the entire Security Council, for the Secretary General, and for the member states. In our case, this very much includes the Congress, which signs the checks, and we pay twenty five per cent of the bill for peace keeping. Germany pays about eight or nine per cent. We will all have to decide how to proceed.

I want to be clear on another point: Sierra Leone, appalling though it is, cannot be viewed as a metaphor for all of Africa, nor can the Congo, nor can Ethiopea/Eritrea. Despite these appalling and legitimately well-publicized disasters in Africa, there are plenty of success stories. Consider the example of ECOWAS, the West African states in West Africa - the countries which have settled or contained their disputes, or the South African Development Council in Southern Africa. Yesterday, our Deputy Secretary of State, my friend Strobe Talbott, spoke about these issues in Johannesburg and in Maputo in Mozambique, where he represented us at the SADC meetings. The speech is very important and I wish it would get more attention in the outside world. Strobe listed the success stories in the region: Mozambique, Namibia and elsewhere. I strongly endorse his efforts.

Three or four days ago, our delegation flew out from Kampala across the hills of Uganda to meet with President Museveni in his country village in an effort to stop the fighting in Kisangani, the third largest city in Congo, that had erupted between his forces and those of Rwanda. It was an overnight war. We diverted to deal with it and we announced a cease-fire there, which has actually been holding the last few days - although the tensions between these two nations, which should be friends and allies, are very high right now. As we flew out over these hills, the Minister of State for Development of Uganda, Mr. Mbabazi, pointed down from the helicopter to these beautiful hills in Africa. Africa is most heartbreakingly beautiful. He said, "That's where I'm from - this is my native area. When I was growing up here, everybody was dying of sleeping sickness, the tsetse fly and the US aid programs eliminated the disease and made this land usable and inhabitable." It could have been someone else - it could have been the European Union or Japan or the UN, but in this case, it was the US. I thought to myself - you can make a difference in Africa and elsewhere, and it is worth trying. Because, if they hadn't done this, the disease and the consequences would be even greater.

All of this - the good, the bad, the ugly - needs to be drawn on in the difficult coming days and weeks of policy making for the international community regarding a continent which, from a distance, seems to be aflame from across its entire breadth but, in fact, is dealing with separable, discreet and identifiable crises.

We specifically need to address the Congo where, tragically, history from King Leopold's ghost to Mobutu's legacy, hangs heavy over the country. Perhaps no African state has had more difficulty than the Congo in overcoming the terrible legacies of its past. Since Mobutu's downfall, it has been embroiled in bitter conflict involving at least seven nations plus several rebel groups in what has been accurately described by, among others, Madeleine Albright as Africa's first world war.

Last year, under the leadership of President Chiluba of Zambia, one of Africa's most dynamic leaders, the nations came together in Zambia's capital Lusaka to sign an agreement known as the Lusaka Peace Accords. It is a good agreement. It is an African solution to an African problem and all that the African nations asked was that the rest of the world support it. The UN has committed itself to support it. Part of that commitment will involve peacekeeping troops. This, of course, in the shadow of Sierra Leone, will be a great dilemma.

The final decisions will be made by the Secretary General based on our report and I would not (want) to foreshadow that. Nor would I want to foreshadow the degree to which the United States Congress, in the wake of Sierra Leone, will support the effort. But if, if the Secretary General decides to move into the second phase of peacekeeping, I hope and I pray that the international community, including our own country, will recognize that those decisions should be made - informed by but not imprisoned by the crisis in Sierra Leone.

I certainly don't disagree that UN peacekeeping has fundamental problems, as Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia proved. In Sierra Leone, the UN deployed a force that was too inexperienced and insufficiently capable. Deployments were very slow. This troubles me greatly in regard to the Congo and particularly the Kisangani crisis, which I mentioned earlier, where both President Museveni of Uganda and President Kagame of Rwanda have urgently called for UN troops to take over the city, at which point they both agreed to withdraw. But, if the UN troops don't get there, the cease-fire, which is now voluntary, could easily deteriorate. UN member states were too slow to deploy troops to the region. As a result, the UN was over three thousand troops short of the amount authorized by the Security Council when the crisis exploded. This being said, I would reject the argument that, because of its failures including Sierra Leone, the UN should simply relinquish its responsibilities. It is not one that I would share.

Along with President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright, I remain committed to trying to make UN peacekeeping effective. If done right, UN peacekeeping is vital and can be successful. We have many examples: Cyprus today, still divided and beginning the process of accession to the EU, would not be the peaceful island it is - although tense, if it were not for those UN forces. The UN peacekeepers played indispensable roles in bringing stability, independence and progress to other areas. They did a superb job under the Belgians in Eastern Slovenia and Croatia. They played critical roles in Namibia and Macedonia, in Mozambique and I commend them highly for the work they are doing in East Timor right now as they bring that horribly wartorn, tragic Eastern half of the island in the eastern part of the Indonesian archipelago towards its impending status as the first newly independent nation of the 21st century.

The UN is certainly not going to be the answer for every crisis. Sometimes, as in Bosnia, the bulk of the forces are not UN and I think that the arrangements reached in Bosnia, which did not go through the UN for the most part, were correct. The initial deployment in East Timor, for example, was not a UN peacekeeping deployment. Almost no one realizes this. It was authorized by the UN, but it was a regular military force led by a very powerful Australian contingent, backed up by British, French, American, Philippine and Korean regular troops - authorized by the UN but not a UN operation. When they had things under control, a few months ago - about three months ago, they transitioned from national government means to a UN force. Some of the same troops stayed and put on blue berets. Some, like the Americans, stayed under green helmets in order to assist but not under the UN. The Filipinos took over from the Australians - and I think it is working.

So the UN and regional leaders should and must work hand in glove. There is no single, off-the-shelf, cookie cutter solution. Sometimes regional organizations should take the lead with UN support. In other cases, the UN should lead with regional support. Among the world's regional organizations, there is no doubt about which one is the most powerful and the most effective. It is NATO. It is the Atlantic Alliance which remains indispensable to stability. The only question for us to debate is not whether or not the Alliance is strained. I know that every year in February, some of the world's great strategic thinkers assemble in this city, have a dinner in this very room, and, during the Wehrkunde conference, debate the strains in the European-American relationship. Whether it is 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990 or the year 2000, they always conclude that the Alliance is in crisis. And, ladies and gentlemen, it is not. It is a strong organization - the strongest strategic relationship in the world. It has survived every challenge of the Cold War and it made a transition to a post Cold War context, adding three new members, taking on incredibly difficult responsibilities in Bosnia and Kosovo and is as strong as ever. Our self-criticism, our self-analysis which the Wehrkunde conference at its very best epitomizes (because this is a wonderful and valuable conference and I am proud to have been associated with it) is one of the reasons it is so strong, because of our capacity for open self-criticism. Let's not get confused between self-criticism for improving it and thinking we really are in a profound crisis in the Atlantic Alliance. There are many crises in the world. The Atlantic Alliance is not one of them.

On the contrary, Bosnia is one of the great success stories of international peacemaking and peacekeeping. The United States, Germany, France and the United Kingdom - and even Russia in the contact group in the Dayton negotiations and in the subsequent period, have kept the peace for five years with no casualties. Much more slowly than we want but unmistakably, the country is beginning to knit together. Your country has, as a result of that effort, been able to see a sharp reduction in the number of refugees from the Balkans in Germany. So the benefits to Germany far outweigh the costs which your country has so generously undertaken.

Kosovo, of course, is a much more difficult situation, but it is much earlier in the process and a similar commitment by all the countries involved is essential for it to succeed. A year ago today, the air campaign was going on in Kosovo. Peace in Kosovo, the core of which was negotiated north of here on the hill above the Rhine at Petersberg, is far from assured at this point as an enduring outcome. But, if the United States, Germany, and our NATO Allies make the commitment, I am sure that we will be able to persevere - although I must say in all frankness that, as long as Slobodan Milosevic is in power in Belgrade, it will be difficult to see the way to a firm date in Kosovo. Because of the unique legal aspects of that problem, it is quite different and more complicated than Bosnia.

But, to return in conclusion to the UN in Africa, Africa is not part of the NATO area of responsibility. Africa is difficult. It is far away. Its logistics are harder. The Congo is about 200 times the size of Kosovo and there are no roads, the rivers have silted up, and there are no communications. No amount of external United Nations or international forces could ever bring peace to the Congo. It has to be the parties themselves, assisted by the international community. No one is arguing, and I must underline this, that a Bosnia/Kosovo type operation would be desirable or possible in the Congo. Nonetheless, we can't turn away from it. In order to make it work, the UN institutions - not the member states or the Security Council - but the UN Secretariat, the organization which is supposed to run these operations, is going to have to do a better job.

Next Tuesday, I will go to the UN, to one of the committees of the UN, the budget committee, and propose far-ranging reforms for the way the peacekeeping office of the UN is financed, structured and administered in order to improve its operations. It is not a criticism of its head, Bernard Miyet of France, but of the entire concept of the way that office is now run. Absent the reform which we will call for next Monday, I can tell you that UN peacekeeping will be on a collision course, will be headed for a train wreck as I've said earlier. But reform, if carried out, should be able to deal with the simple fact that demand for peacekeeping is far outpacing the UN's capacity.

The crisis in Sierra Leone, however, shows that reform cannot wait. The talk about peacekeeping reform brings to mind Bismarck's famous observation that conquering armies - or rebel groups for that matter - will not be halted by the power of eloquence. Words are important and they have meaning, but the time is here also for action in reform of the UN. Reform is our highest sustained priority in New York itself while dealing with these crises. It is an unavoidable, overpowering matter of urgency. We will do this at the highest levels - including President Clinton and Secretary Albright in the coming days and weeks.

We should remember that peacekee